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From the Boston Underground Film Festival: ‘Survival is Insufficient’ Short Film Showcase

By Cate A. Engles, Contributing Writer

On March 26, the Boston Underground Film Festival (BUFF) premiered its short film program titled “Survival is Insufficient.” The eight films included in the showcase — all between eight and 17 minutes long — were unrelated in content, but all centered around living with personal demons. Whether these demons were literal or metaphorical, the underlying goal of each film was to defeat them.

The curators for the screening, Melinda Green, George Luke, and Kevin Monahan grouped these particular short films together based on the characters’ common goals. In the description of the event on the BUFF website, the curators state that the protagonists of each film “desperately need to be seen, heard, and understood by another person.” For instance, in director’s Ellie Stewart’s “Pool Party,” a teenage girl is isolated from her friends because they suspect she is a mermaid and when she finally reveals her secret to her biggest enemy, the protagonist takes revenge on her like an evil Siren would.

Each film sat somewhere within the science-fiction genre. While some included random absurdities in the mundane lives of characters, others were completely based in alternate universes. “It Takes a Village” from Glam Hag is a whacky take on “Rosemary’s Baby” where a lady cult supports a pregnant woman through an untraditional birth. In a secret meeting place filled with feminist paraphernalia, glittered walls, and masked women, the idea of birth as a monument for heterosexual couples is turned on its head with the women-only cast.

Other films touched more explicitly on issues of today. Director Tito Fernandes’s “Incubus” deals with the trauma of sexual assault as the wound reincarnates itself as a monster inside the protagonist’s body.

On the more lighthearted side, “CONTENT: The Lo-Fi Man” from directors Brian Lonano and Blake Meyers shows the vapidness of today’s “content creator.” A demanding robot sucks the creativity out of filmmakers and turns them into insipid content creators, and the main protagonist must look to his favorite film hero for inspiration to take down this “Content Seeker.” It was like “Star Wars” if Luke Skywalker was a passionate film critic.

Some films were purely for comedic relief, and there seemed to be no deeper meaning to their plots. “Rhyme or Die” from Max Lincoln was exactly what the title says: The characters competed in rhyming battles where the losers died. Similarly, Francisco Lacerda’s film “They Call It…Red Cemetary!” had little to offer its audience besides a laugh at its ridiculousness: two greedy cowboys put themselves through miserable tasks just to get their hands on some gold coins. Full of gimmicky jokes and unimpressive filming techniques, these were the least impactful films out of the eight.

Although none of the films came away with an award at this year's festival, there were a couple that shined for their funny storylines or impressive special effects. “Scooter” from Chelsea Lupkin was a hilarious short where a post-breakup heroine saves the world from horrible men. With the help of a supernatural demon-woman, the protagonist avoids a misogynistic catastrophe. Frederik S. Hana’s “From.Beyond,” by contrast, is a more serious short about the possibilities of human and alien relationships. Its documentary style makes the footage of extraterrestrial creatures seem realistic.

After watching the entire program, Lupkin’s “Scooter” remains the most stand-out. Although it was entirely shot outside a fast-food stand, so much occurs during its eight minutes that it is able to balance both tension and thrill with a cathartic ending. The characters’ personalities really shine through, as they are obviously inspired by the people many encountered in our day-to-day lives.

“Survival is Insufficient” brought many fresh ideas to BUFF this year. Whether it is mermaids or fatal rhyming competitions, the audience members left prepared for whatever may manifest in this lifetime or another world.

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